How pigeons took over the world - Elizabeth Carlen and Joanna Moles
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Adult pigeons come in a variety of colors and patterns. While we often think of the standard pigeon as a medium-sized gray bird with an iridescent chest and two darker gray bars on its wings, there are many more color and pattern combinations out there if we just stop and take a closer look. This includes pigeons that are all white, all black, missing wing bars, red, brown, and many combinations of these colors. Researchers at the University of Utah have been working to uncover which genes control these color and pattern combinations. They’ve even created a fun game called “Pigeonetics” to help unravel the mystery of pigeon color.
In fact, people have been interested in pigeon colors and patterns for decades. Charles Darwin, who is known for developing the theory of evolution, was fascinated with pigeons and kept dozens of pigeons while he was formulating the theory of evolution. Biologists have also long been fascinated by pigeons’ homing ability. For a long time, researchers thought pigeons used their incredible sense of smell and hearing to travel home. Pigeons can hear frequencies that are so low they can detect storms and volcanic eruptions. More recently, researchers have even attached magnets to pigeon beaks to understand how they are able to find their way home. This magnet test helped researchers understand that pigeons use tiny magnetic particles in the beaks to sense the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth.
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